From the outside looking in, it’s not difficult to notice how the Japanese always seem to do things with a quiet elegance, and a certain sense of dignity. An artisanal spirit manages to show through even the most mundane of activities.
If you share our love for excellent craftsmanship and tasteful design, going to department stores can be a waste of time. We’ve combed through Tokyo’s neighborhoods in search of products reflecting a sensitivity to beauty that is quintessentially Japanese. Here’s a list of places you could go to without having to veer away from your itinerary, or daily routine.
Along the way to Sensō-ji, just past the Kaminarimon, stretches a shopping street older than the Japan we know today. Here, one cannot help but get excited at the idea of finding products that hark back to the Edo period. Shops lining Nakamise-dōri carry items as varied as washi and chiyogami products; kimono and haori; traditional munchies such as dango, rice crisps, and anpan; and tenugui and engraved mirrors. Some shops have goods of souvenir quality, while as others carry curiosities fit for a daimyo. While you’re there, don’t forget the backstreets. Shin-Nakamise-dōri and Kannon-dōri boast of a treasure trove of wood block prints, Japanese calligraphy, ceramics, wooden toys, and ceremonial kimono.
Just a hop and a skip away from Asakusa-dōri, a bit beyond Bandai’s building, lies the heart of the revitalized industrial district of Kuramae. What once was a dull neighborhood is now frequented by locals who come here for made-to-order products one could call uniquely one’s own. Now, workshops and showrooms of contemporary artisans, and world-renowned arts and crafts suppliers line the streets.
The neighborhood would not have been back in the radar, though, if not for a new breed of entrepreneurs breathing life into the area. The likes of Takuma Hirose’s Kakimori are awakening the younger generation’s interest in traditional crafts. A generation brought up with China-made products is slowly seeing the merits of all things artisanal.
Right smack in the middle of the Akihabara and the Kanda stations stands mAAch ecute. It was borne out of a restoration project of the JR East to revitalize the old Manseibashi Station. The mixed use building houses a zakka store, where Scandinavian furniture pieces are sold alongside Japanese interior goods. The open plan design provides for designated workspaces for young artisans to craft and peddle their wares. If you want a feel of the old station, there’s even a café on the old platform offering front row seats by the train tracks.
Nakameguro may be widely known for the Sakura tree-lined Meguro-gawa, and the retail establishments, concept restaurants, and hip coffee stalls peppering the streets running along its bank, but this district’s charm comes from its preoccupation with all things artistic.
Exploring beyond popular areas, one cannot help but notice that Tokyo’s creative crowd go as far as the Gakugei Daigaku neighborhood in seeking out a design mecca: CLASKA.
In the second floor of this boutique hotel is the first ever Gallery & Shop DO CLASKA. It delights with contemporary renditions of Japanese-style lifestyle and fashion products at superior quality and excellent craftsmanship. What started out as a concept store carrying products made by young artisans from all over Japan has evolved into a chain of lifestyle shops. Now, you’ll find its branches livening up the local retail scene one shopping mall at a time.
Hiding behind the touristy Ueno Park, the quiet neighborhoods of Yanaka, Nezu, and Sendagi have managed to maintain an Old Town feel. Here, you may spend some time getting to know shops along the long stretch of Yanaka Ginza – a haven for fresh food stuff, cooked meals, and sweet and savory snacks – or hobnobbing with Shiba Inus hanging out in Nezu Shrine’s grounds.
Meander even further uphill to Sendagi, and you might just stumble upon Amezaiku Yoshihara, where delicious marzipan shaped into adorable animals and fictional creatures are up for the taking. Each piece is so good to look at, you’ll patiently wait until it’s almost expired to take a lick.
Right now, Tokyo’s retail scene is highly saturated with imported luxury fashion and interior goods. It’s just a waste of latent talent that the mainstream market is fixated on Western ideals. The industry is evolving at such a fast pace, though. Consumer sentiment is being directed towards an appreciation for modernized traditional goods, as the Japanese continuously find new ways to pique the world’s interest. You’ll never know for sure what tomorrow’s trends will give birth to, or how they will change the current mindset. Things seem to be looking up, so our search continues!